The typical Baguio tourist experience involves browsing for quirky finds at the ukay-ukay stalls (shops that sell second-hand goods), taking snapshots of misty pine trees and grabbing a few drinks along Session Road. But there is much more to Baguio than its tasty food, cool weather and the strawberry taho. It has managed to retain cultural traditions that are still honored despite the Filipinos’ fast-changing lifestyles.

We had a chance to witness this love for the past during the second Ibaloi Festival, held early this year over a span of three days at Burnham Park. Spearheaded by the Onjon ni Ivadoi Association Inc., the event revolved around the theme Daing (Wisdom), Takhal (Courage) tan Semek (Love) ni Ivadoi.

We arrived at the crack of dawn on the festival’s first day to find a large pen with pigs and a cow destined for slaughter. Huge vats over wooden fires were already bubbling, steam rising and filling the air with the comforting smell of rice and cooked pork. People decked in traditional garb would occasionally check and stir the cauldrons with large wooden ladles.
A woman gestured to us to draw close, and when we did, we were surprised to have plates enthusiastically thrusted into our hands. We were served mountains of rice and flavorful, juicy pork. The secret, the cook confided, was that the pig was blowtorched, salted and then boiled.

Jackson Chiday, president of the Onjon ni Ivadoi Association, as well as the other officers, gamely posed for pictures. After finishing our breakfast, more people began to arrive, setting up stalls to sell shirts, necklaces, woven bags and even woven suits.

The festival officially opened with a parade, complete with horses. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of Ibaloi customs and modern life. It was not so much of a clash, but a unique harmony of influences – the sea of traditional weaving alongside cowboy hats and boots, necklaces of snake bones resting against plaid shirts, gaily colored Chuck Taylors under a woven skirt. As a couple of teenagers demonstrated an Ibaloi courtship dance, spectators took selfies with their smartphones. But the dancing was not limited to just rituals. At the end of the day, a band took over the stage, playing songs like Achy Breaky Heart that people couldn’t resist dancing to.

The sense of hospitality was overwhelming. Everyone was invited to partake of the lunch all throughout the festival, an experience that was certainly not for the squeamish. Before being cooked, the animals were butchered on the spot in front of the crowd. But despite the blood and gore, a good number of people were still seen enjoying the tasty meals.

The festival wrapped up with messages from Commissioner Zenaida Hamada Pawid of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan, and then an offering of a black pig during the blessing of indigenous instruments.

The event was not merely meant as a showcase of Ibaloi traditions. It was also a celebration of the people’s hospitality, pride in their heritage and of Baguio – Kafagway as it was originally called, meaning “wide open space”. To those who think this northern metro is just about its nippy weather and posing for selfies in winter garb, we think you should have another deeper look.